We Have The Power Presents: The Top 50 US Power Metal Albums Of All Time, Part 2

Gird your loins, heroes! It’s time for part 2 of the Top 50 US Power Metal Releases Of All Time // The Final 25. If you missed Part 1, you might consider a quick sidestep before launching into the below endeavor. Or don’t! I’m clearly not the boss of you.

Right off the bat, please recall that the full list is chronological by year, not an arbitrary verdict of “goodness-to-greatness.” In short, all 50 releases represent the best USPM has to offer, so trying to figure out which one is slightly better than the next? Truly an exercise in futility.

With the entrance of the final 25, you will of course notice a few brushoffs that may seem outrageous. Just know that if some of your favorites didn’t make the cut, that doesn’t necessarily mean I think what’s missing is, you know… crap. This list very simply represents the 50 albums I hold dearest to my heart after (gulp) 40 years of listening, pure and simple. In the interest of transparency, however, here are (gasp) six of the more glaring omissions, along with the briefest of explanations, offered up in an effort to get any tantrums out of the way early:

» Iced Earth — Yes, I know this is a big one. And yes, I am fully aware of the universal love for Night of the Stormrider, Burnt Offerings, Horror Show et al., but I’ve never fallen fully in love with any of the band’s output. It’s great that so many others have, but even the album I would consider tops—NotS—floats around an 80% for me. Plus, you know who attempted a boo hoo coup against one of the key factors that makes USPM US power metal, and I am an “actions have consequences” kind of fellow.

» Helstar — I feel pretty bad about this one. Like, laying there at night and wondering “what the hell did Nosferatu ever do to me to deserve this” levels of bad. There is, however, a more thought-out explanation amidst the blurbs below, so… keep reading?

» Lizzy Borden — Check with me in about three hours and you will find me already looking for a way to chop an album in order to wedge Love You to Pieces into the mix. That was a fun album that deserves love, and I am a chump for leaving it behind.

» Attacker — You know, I think modern day Attacker is better than the version that released Battle at Helm’s Deep and The Second Coming way back when. Basically, I never got the feeling they were terribly comfortable in their own skin, but I wouldn’t say I’m familiar enough with their newer face to give albums such as Giants of Canaan or Sins of the World a fair judgement.

» Apocrypha — Hey, fantastic leads.

» Pantera’s Power Metal — C’mon…

Now that we have that out of the way, I’ll be perched on the seat of a dunking tank somewhere outside of Jockstrap, Nevada this summer—come throw a few fastballs at the target in an attempt to make me pay for the above transgressions.

On to the business at hand.

We left off in 1986—with M.A.R.S.’s Project: Driver, to be exact—which means I either somehow managed to scrounge 25 releases spanning 1987 to around 1989, or I’m opening the doors to allow more modern bands a chance at olympic gold. Now, I may be one sketch to the right of Mr. Cro-Magnon on the Evolution of Man poster, but I am not one of those old soreheads who thinks “true heavy metal” died a glorious death on or around December 31st, 1989. So, yes, you will see modern interpretations of USPM represented below, as well as a couple entries that could rankle the feathers of the stodgiest of purists. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with rankling feathers, friends. That sort of thing keeps people on their toes, and it inspires completely level-headed and civilized debate—like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates very calmly battling to the death over who has the best cheesesteak, Geno’s or Pat’s.

Recap of the rules to the game:
» One album per band
» Bands need to be from the United States
» Ranked by year

I will likely need a little break before figuring out how to attack the next phase of the adventure, which is The Top 100 Power Metal Albums of All Time. That’s the list that focuses on what most people think about when power metal enters the conversation in the modern age—the Euro strain that built on and expanded the Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I blueprint. For what it’s worth, the list is already done, but the prospect of writing about it makes my head spin. In the meantime, though, I hope you’ve enjoyed this precursor, and that at the very least this list provides a relatively tidy snapshot of an oft-misunderstood / blurry brand of powerful heavy metal that continues to do its damndest to combat all the gloominess that so often gets the bulk of metal’s attention.

Right, that’s it. FIGHT! OR! FALL!



Cities – Annihilation Absolute [1987]

[Cover artwork: Beirne Lowry]

The big grab for Cities back in 1987 was the presence of A.J. Pero on drums, fresh off his split from Twisted Sister after the fairly mediocre Come Out and Play (1986), and that lure was of course prominently displayed on a sticker adorning the cover of Annihilation Absolute. As good as Pero’s performance is here, though, it’s easily matched by guitarist Steve Mironovich’s adjacent to shred but not quite shred attack on the fretboard. The result was a fairly bruising, raw form of US power heavy on punch (despite a notably shitty production) that might’ve gained more traction had everyone involved opted for a cover that, while technically proficient, didn’t look like a heavy metal band following in the footsteps of Pitcher-Man for an apocalyptic Kool-Aid ad.

Primitive origins: New York, NY
Label: Metal Blade Records
Sample: “Fight for Your Life

Nasty Savage – Indulgence [1987]

[Cover artwork: Van Dercar]

No list featuring the top USPM releases is complete without finding an avenue for of one of our nation’s more unique acts: Brandon, Florida’s weird and weirdly amorphous Nasty Savage. The band’s self-titled debut is probably the closest they’ve come to straight-up US power, but like so many of their contemporaries, Nasty Savage warped the formula to keep in line with fresh trends that were continually bending into new extremes. As a result, Indulgence delivered a twisted form of US power, speed and thrash that was weirdly sophisticated on the one hand, but counterbalanced by the in-your-face force of nature that was the voice and very palpable presence of “Nasty Ronnie” Geletti. Put a collection of porcelain tea cups on an attractive antique table and watch a 250lb man do an elbow drop through everything from the top turnbuckle: that’s Indulgence in the nuttiest of nutshells.

Primitive origins: Brandon, FL
Label: Metal Blade Records / Restless Records
Sample: “Indulgence

Savatage – Hall of the Mountain King [1987]

[Cover artwork: Gary Smith]

Here’s the thing about having to pick between Sirens and Hall of the Mountain King for the reigning Savatage release for a list such as this: The Dungeons Are Calling also exists. In the end—and despite the fact that Sirens still features my favorite Savatage song, “Scream Murder”—Hall wins the scrum because it’s more adventurous compared to what preceded it, and it just nails that perfect US power sweet-spot before the band became obsessed with rock operas. Jon Oliva’s vocals are bonkers, and Criss Oliva’s riffing and magnificent soloing prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he remains one of the most underrated guitarists in all of metal. Fun throwback fact: I once recited the lyrics to “White Witch” to one of my best friend’s new girlfriends, who’d just finished trying to explain to me why she considered herself “a good witch, not one of those witches that practices black magic.” It went over about as well as you might expect.

Primitive origins: Tampa, FL
Label: Atlantic Records
Sample: “Hall of the Mountain King” (OFFICIAL VIDEO)

Shok Paris – Steel and Starlight [1987]

[Cover artwork: Eric Apel]

Hey, dump on Cleveland all you want from your ivory thrones in whatever ball-punch town you happen to call home, but growing up there in the ‘80s as a metal fan meant you were about as spoiled as a maniac could get. Our numbers were great, every known band pulling through the Midwest stopped there, and the local scene was absolute fire. Every off-shoot was represented in spades, and even the bands that seemed packaged for glam rock—Shok Paris, for example—still bristled with the bruising blue collar toughness that permeated throughout the whole of the city. No album is a better representative of this than Steel and Starlight, a damn-near bulletproof example of how to deliver grade-A USPM mixed with just a touch of the glitz a band like Pretty Maids likewise delivered in ‘87 with the excellent Future World. Ah, 1987, you were a glammy, powerful year, and Steel and Starlight was definitely a pinnacle of your more melodic and punchy side. Postscript: the wonderfully gravelly vocals of Vic Hix were, and still are today, one of metal’s best kept secrets. OH GOD, I JUST BLABBED ONE OF METAL’S SECRETS.

Primitive origins: Cleveland, OH
Label: I.R.S. Records
Sample: “On Your Feet

Tyrant – Too Late to Pray [1987]

[Cover artwork: Glen May]

Too Late to Pray is one of those albums that might’ve been an ideal candidate to mollify parents concerned that heavy metal circa 1987 was “nothing but Satan, violence and death,” but it explored Christianity and religion in a way that somehow managed to tower over the darkness of Tyrant’s most eeeeevil contemporaries. “Look, ma! He says ‘Fight FOR the Nazarene!’” [bleakest riff explodes from the speaker.] Hey, ask any Catholic on the planet: You can’t have salvation without the guilt, fear and threat of eternal damnation constantly hanging over your melon like the Sword of Damocles. Regardless of its…strangely pious intentions, what Tyrant’s Too Late to Pray truly delivered was one of the heaviest and gloomiest USPM ever recorded. If the idea of Show No Mercy-era Slayer colliding with Omen inside a crumbled church graveyard sounds like a great time to you, Too Late to Pray is definitely your huckleberry.

Primitive origins: Pasadena, CA
Label: Combat Records / Roadrunner Records
Sample: “Too Late to Pray

Wild Dogs – Reign of Terror [1987]

[Cover artwork: Patrick Pending as “art direction”]

The rest of the LR crew is tired of hearing this story, but my first encounter with Portland’s Wild Dogs came courtesy of my kindly little grandma from Germany. Turn of events: I got a pretty good report card, mein liebe Oma agreed to buy me an album as a result of it, I chose Reign of Terror because the album cover looked sweet and there was a song called “Siberian Vacation” on it. Blind buys like that were always a total crapshoot back then, but I was immediately thrilled with Wild Dogs’ brand of flashy, aggressive USPM that underscored big hooks and a unique hazy atmosphere fitting of their city of origin. Plus, vocalist Michael Furlong had a wonderfully raspy delivery that sounded like the American version of Udo, which I’m guessing I forced my poor granny to discover later that afternoon.

Primitive origins: Portland, OR
Label: Enigma / DRO / Music For Nations / N.E.W. Musidisc
Sample: “Siberian Vacation

Liege Lord – Master Control [1988]

[Cover artwork: John Zeleznik]

Nothing against the two opening forays into USPM that are Freedom’s Rise (1985) and Burn to My Touch (1987), but Pasadena’s Liege Lord really hit their full stride with album number three, Master Control. There’s a little more aggression here, both in riffage and rhythm, and new vocalist Joseph Comeau’s harder delivery suited the band’s feistier face perfectly. The whole affair is leaner, meaner and as polished as the laser-dodging protagonist that adorns the classic artwork. In a strange way, a record like Master Control felt a little dated at the time of its release, as a shift to a more aggressive approach like this still ended up sounding light compared to what bands like Death and Possessed were doing at the same time, but no self respecting metal freak could say no to a record like Master Control with all that melodic fret wizardry being volleyed back and forth between Tony Truglio and Paul Nelson.

Primitive origins: Stamford, CT
Label: Metal Blade Records / Roadrunner Records
Sample: “Broken Wasteland

Riot – Thundersteel [1988]

[Cover artwork: Kevin Kall]

When someone unfamiliar with USPM asks for a definitive album that best represents a true pick of the litter, you really can’t go wrong by offering Riot’s first return to action after a five year hiatus, Thundersteel. Few peers had the capacity to match the record’s overall energy and level of finesse, even by today’s standards, and the heights and hooks from so many of Thundersteel’s peaks still manage to sound fresh and bombastic in the modern age. Not to take away from Riot’s earlier works—their first three albums are equally essential—but to deliver something as electrified as Thundersteel after two fairly middling releases and years spent mostly observing the game from the sidelines? Just a hugely inspiring move by principal architect / guitarist, Mark Reale. He was a true master of his craft, and his absence continues to leave a crater-sized hole in the hearts of those who’ve come to rely on his fret sorcery to help animate the corners of an often humdrum existence on planet Earth. Thankfully, we’ll always have albums such as Thundersteel at arm’s length to combat the unyielding forces of darkness, and that’s certainly well enough reason for loud celebration. “Rise up! Your swords for the souls you must save!”

Primitive origins: New York, NY
Label: CBS / Epic Records
Sample: “Fight or Fall

Sanctuary – Refuge Denied [1988]

[Cover artwork: Ed Repka]

Many moons ago, amidst an age when the word “Megadeth” did not cause me to think about the retching noise a cat makes before hurling chowder onto the floor, a sticker with the words “Produced by Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine” appeared on the cover for Refuge Denied, and that was all I needed to commit to Sanctuary’s landmark 1988 debut. What I was not expecting, however, was to be very literally and physically bowled the frick over by what still stands today as one of the most unique and powerful vocal performances to ever land on a heavy metal record. Stupidly high praise? Sure. But take Warrel Dane away from Refuge Denied and you basically have a 7/10 album by a promising power / thrash band. WITH Dane, however, you have a bonafide classic that is unquestionably essential for anyone who cares about the roots of the genre. Where were you the first time you heard Warrel Dane howl, “Their heathen ways have sealed their….. DOOOOOOOOOM!!!!” Still conjures chills today.

Primitive origins: Seattle, WA
Label: Epic Records
Sample: “Battle Angels

Screamer – Target: Earth [1988]

[Cover artwork: Scott Jackson]

Screamer’s Target: Earth is one of those albums that really benefits from the passage of time. The band was often referred to as “Wisconsin’s answer to Queensrÿche,” and landing their first contribution in 1988 amidst what many would consider the apex of their primary influence’s career meant a number of people didn’t have a ton of extra time for something that sounded a bit like the preliminary sketches of what Geoff Tate & company were producing. Years later, and with the benefit of Queensrÿche quickly drifting further and further away from their roots and eventually off the rails altogether, Target: Earth found a fresh appreciation. One listen to a gilded turd like Tribe or Operation: Mindcrime II was enough to make any fan of the classic ‘Rÿche sound weep for a week, and even though Screamer vocalist Bill Carter was on a tier below Tate (c’mon… who wasn’t??), the combination of his prominently underscored siren’s wail with the glassy lead interplay between Mike Schantek and Ronny Valeo made Target: Earth feel like a time warp right back to the glory days of Rage for Order.

Primitive origins: Kenosha, WI
Label: New Renaissance Records
Sample: “Visionary

Vicious Rumors – Digital Dictator [1988]

[Cover artwork: Guy Aitchison]

I really don’t think there’s a wrong answer between the first three (maaaaybe four) Vicious Rumors records for a list such as this, as long as one of those albums is represented. The band’s self-titled third release remains my favorite, because it’s their catchiest and it was my first introduction to the band after seeing Barney Greenway sport a Vicious Rumors shirt in a promo pic. But Digital Dictator? Holy crap, what a heavyweight. This record isn’t just the launch of what’s widely considered to be the classic line-up of the band, it’s a steel-plated example of how to balance beauty and brawn for a damn-near invincible USPM ride. How a band can get better following the exit of a guitarist as gifted as Vinnie Moore remains a mystery to me, but I’m guessing it has a lot to do with the fact that Geoff Thorpe and Mark McGee thrived as one of the most underrated guitar duos in metal. Plus, Carl Albert was an absolute beast behind the mic, may he rest in peace.

Primitive origins: Santa Rosa, CA
Label: Shrapnel Records / Roadrunner Records
Sample: “Minute to Kill

Titan Force – Titan Force [1989]

[Cover artwork: Todd Caudle]

It’s not terribly common to find three brothers united under the roof of one heavy metal band, but such is / was the case with Colorado’s Titan Force. Did the brothers Flores drive their parents up the wall with unending metal shop talk, blown speakers and haircare products stacked to the rafters? “Signs point to yes,” according to the Magic 8 Ball. But their dedication to the craft of developing a brand of progressive power strongly related to the No Exit-era of Fates Warning resulted in opening gigs for Jag Panzer, which quickly landed JP vocalist Harry Conklin in the Titan Force ranks. We love it when a plan comes together. At first blush, it’s a little strange hearing the same Tyrant responsible for much of the aggression behind Ample Destruction soften his delivery for a more elegant form of power, but it still works. Really, the only reason I can figure for the relatively small splash Titan Force made at the time of its release relates to the fact that most of the glossy headlines at the time shifted their focus toward the burgeoning death metal scene. Thank goodness the internet never allows unheralded metal releases to get lost completely.

Primitive origins: Colorado Springs, CO
Label: U.S. Metal Records
Sample: “New Age Rebels

Lethal – Programmed [1990]

[Cover artwork: Dell Hull]

It’s gotta be the album cover, no? Not the worst concept, to be fair, but far too simplistic and… strangely clumsy, particularly considering how not simplistic and clumsy the music behind Programmed happens to be. Bottom line, amidst an age where a first impression often lives and dies with front cover art, what Lethal delivered here had little-to-no chance of catching the eye of passersby scouring record bins in 1990, despite the noteworthy distinction of being on Metal Blade Records. Listeners who took the plunge were definitely rewarded, though, as Programmed delivered quite possibly the very best slightly shifted interpretation of the more progressive face of Queensrÿche a metal fan could ever hope to encounter. In particular, Tom Mallicoat’s vocals were tastefully mapped from Tate’s, and the stronger emphasis on the proggier side of both Fates Warning and Iron Maiden gave Programmed a rather unique atmosphere that felt like a more suitable follow-up to The Warning than what Rage for Order ended up delivering.

Primitive origins: Hebron, KY
Label: Metal Blade Records
Sample: “Immune” (OFFICIAL VIDEO)

Virgin Steele – The Marriage of Heaven and Hell – Part 2 [1995]

[Cover artwork: Darren “Demon” Boerckel]

If you’re at all familiar with Long Island’s Virgin Steele, then you are quite versed in the concept of “expect the unexpected.” Some days you’ll get ruttish hard rock along the lines of the Sea Hags, others you’ll get a 10 minute video of chief engineer / songwriter / vocalist / keyboardist David DeFeis squirming around in a chair with his cat whilst warbling through symphonic odes to Greek gods. Suffice to say, most anything appears to be fair game for DeFeis’ central creative outlet, but we do generally get the most excited when steel meets the whetstone and the results are beautifully pure, epic, progressive US power—an occasion that’s best represented by the second part of Virgin Steele’s majestic ode to poet William Blake’s book of the same name, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either part of this particular record, and many would agree to open that one notch further to include the third act that dropped three years later, Invictus—probably the closest they’ve ever come to classic Manowar. TMoHaH Part II is truly special, though, as it represents the perfect amalgamation of dark and light / muscle and elegance / pageant and punch, and it additionally features one of the most confusing doodles one could ever hope to encounter on an album cover.

Primitive origins: Long Island, NY
Label: T&T Records
Sample: “Twilight of the Gods

Cauldron Born – Born of the Cauldron [1997]

[Revised cover artwork: Lionel Baker II]

Your favorite Cauldron Born album depends largely on who your favorite Cauldron Born singer happens to be, as musically they’ve always followed a similar purpose: classic USPM in the vein of Warlord, Omen and Manilla Road that underscores a burly form of fluid melody that’s packed with plenty of fantasy occult atmosphere. For me, the debut record still hits the highest peaks, thanks to an extra dose of trippy / proggy weirdness in the corners that’s vaulted further into the firmament by the wild and sirenic wail of vocalist Danny White. Imagine the earliest interpretation of Fates Warning and Nasty Savage colliding with epic doomlords Scald and you’re halfway there. Then get yourself lost in the wilderness and survive on nothing but a pile of orange mushrooms you found under a rotting log and you’ll eventually cross the finish line. Now, if you’ll grant me pardon, m’lordship, I shall take my leave by riding yon dappled wyvern back to home and hearth. Please tell me you see that dappled wyvern.

Primitive origins: Atlanta, GA
Label: Underground Symphony
Sample: “Synchronicity at Midnight / A Baying of Hounds

Destiny’s End – Breathe Deep the Dark [1998]

[Cover artwork: Rainer Kalwitz]

I know many expected to see something from Helstar on this list—most likely Nosferatu, thanks largely to the notably underrated guitar work of one André Corbin—but I’m opting for Destiny’s End because it’s the best thing singer James Rivera ever attached his name to, and Breath Deep the Dark happens to be the glorious pinnacle of that endeavor. Both Rivera-fronted ventures explore a similar approach to USPM that emphasizes a fairly technical form of speedy, scootin’ thrash riffs, but Breathe Deep the Dark just feels more fluid and a skosh darker / heavier, resulting in a feast that’s a little more memorable front-to-back. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that the guitar duo of Dan DeLucie (he’ll make another appearance here) and Perry Grayson (Isen Torr) is nothing short of spectacular here. So, yeah, shame on me for the Helstar snub, but at least Destiny’s End and Breathe Deep the Dark is here to help everyone forget how impressively awful I am.

Primitive origins: Pasadena, CA
Label: Metal Blade Records
Sample: “To Be Immortal

The Lord Weird Slough Feg – Down Among the Deadmen [2000]

[Cover artwork: the great Erol Otus]

Cheat alert! Cheat alert! Cheat alert?… Kinda? Accepting a record like Down Among the Deadmen as USPM and not just… “folky, medieval trad metal” does feel as if it stretches the boundaries a bit, but thinking in terms of the release bubbling its way to the surface in, say, 1985? The same people who’d buy records from Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol and Brocas Helm would be an easy mark for the high energy shot into the arm of the NWOBHM peddled by these roving (and certainly raving) minstrels of the iron court. Feg’s early discography is wellnigh bulletproof, but Down Among the Deadmen hits the target pretty much dead center on every single song, and it’s the only album of theirs to feature the dozer bass-play of fallen Bay Area hero Jon Torres of the hugely underrated Warning S.F and Ulysses Siren. Plus, this has to be considered the top of the John Cobbett years, no? You might have to fight someone over Traveller for that award, but it’ll be worth it. “Busted in the Sword Worlds with a loaded Gauss-gun!”

Primitive origins: San Francisco, CA
Label: Dragonheart Records
Sample: “Traders and Gunboats

Onward – Evermoving [2001]

[Cover artwork: Ioannis Vassilopoulos / Alan Chappell]

If you’re unfamiliar with guitarist Toby Knapp, know that he’s responsible for the only (instrumental) death metal album (1993’s Guitar Distortion) to ever appear on Shrapnel Records. Knapp is a total shredder, and though that talent obviously allows for a seemingly endless sea of great and engaging soloing, it’s when he applies said shreddage to his riffing that things totally go through the roof. Onward, for example: A Knapp-established US power project suggested by an old label head that, following the time required to piece together a full posse, garnered enough interest to eventually land in the ear of Century Media Records. Evermoving launches with a total ass-kicker of a riff inside “The Kindness of Strangers”—the sort of riff that smacks of classic Malmsteen, but then what follows is several shades more aggressive compared to anything Rising Force managed to fuse together. The whole of the record is loaded to the rafters with razor riffs and sparkling leads, not to mention the fact that it also showcases one of the more underrated vocalists in all of US power, Michael Grant, who is sadly no longer with us. Look for him again a little further down this list.

Primitive origins: Billings, MT
Label: Century Media Records
Sample: “The Kindness of Strangers

Archetype – Dawning [2002]

[Cover artwork: Tony D’Atri]

It’s strangely appropriate to feature Archetype’s Dawning directly after Onward’s Evermoving, as the former comes across like a first cousin of the latter, but with a strong enough infusion of progressive metal that also brings to mind Symphony X. Yes, Symphony X are themselves a progressive power band from the US, but where Symphony X does not mirror USPM, Archetype does—a punchy form of US power that occasionally hints at thrash, all wrapped in a surprisingly sophisticated form of prog that really should have landed the band wider recognition than they received. Sadly, this would be the only record Archetype managed to eke out (at least so far), a footnote made even more criminal by the fact that Dawning only found a rather limited reach via the notably obscure and now defunct Lucretia Records International out of Italy. Definitely a prime candidate for a proper reissue by some kindly label out there.

Primitive origins: Cleveland, OH
Label: Independent / Lucretia Records International
Sample: “Arisen

Twisted Tower Dire – Crest of the Martyrs [2003]

[Cover artwork: Derek Riggs]

Crest of the Martyrs felt like a bolt of lightning in 2003. Not that USPM was totally dead, of course. Hell, Twisted Tower Dire released the very respectable Isle of the Hydra just two years prior. But the most popular metal enjoyed in America in and around the early 2000s largely focused on its burgeoning black metal scene (Leviathan, Xasthur, Nachtmystium, Judas Iscariot et al.) and a booming atmospheric sludge / post-metal movement that dropped Isis, Neurosis, Old Man Gloom, etc. into our laps. As luck would have it, though, Twisted Tower Dire decided to release their greatest album amidst all that atmospheric gloom, and anyone with a history that threw back to the glory years of Iron Maiden who found themselves flooded by largely dark / mopey trends suddenly found themselves rocketed back to an age where heavy metal was plate-armored, victorious as all hell, and melodic as the day is long.

Primitive origins: Chantilly, VA
Label: Remedy Records / Irond Records / Spiritual Beast
Sample: “To Be a Champion

Crescent Shield – The Last of My Kind [2006]

[Cover artwork: Gerry “Komikero” Alanguilan]

With the demise of Destiny’s End in 2001 and Onward two years later, the guitarist from the former, Dan Delucie, connected with the vocalist of the latter, Michael Grant, and Crescent Shield quickly (and very fortunately) bubbled to life. The result: One of the more under-appreciated US power metal acts to roam these lands, especially as it relates to what happened outside of the classic USPM run that flourished from about 1983-’88. Crescent Shield’s modern take on the style was more indebted to vintage fist-pumping trad metal, but despite sounding rather “Sword & Sorcery,” and even throwing down a few medieval elements, the lyrical themes and artwork explored otherworldly aspects from a futurist’s vantage, which gave records like The Last of My Kind just a touch of Slough Feg in the corners. Honestly, either of the band’s albums are deserving of a list like this, but The Last of My Kind ultimately wins the day because it had the benefit of coming first, and there’s just a touch more wallop in the overall punch. Sadly, with the extremely unfortunate and untimely passing of Michael Grant in 2012, so went the existence of Crescent Shield.

Primitive origins: Los Angeles, CA
Label: Cruz Del Sur Records
Sample: “Above Mere Mortals

Pharaoh – Be Gone [2008]

[Cover artwork: Jean-Pascal Fournier]

If you were a part of this site and its metal forums circa 2006-2008, back when we still marched under the MetalReview banner, you probably remember the crew’s first discovery of Philadelphian USPM heroes Pharaoh. We weren’t privy to the band’s debut back in 2003, but album number two, The Longest Night, hit like a GD meteorite in 2006, uniting scores of MR freaks who bonded over the sheer majesty of songs such as “By the Night Sky,” “Endlessly” and “Up the Gates.” That record had a profound impact on so many of us back then, so it actually hurts my heart to not show due deference by awarding it a spot on this list. With the release of 2008’s Be Gone, though, the collective reaction was a unique form of totally shook: “D… Did they somehow already manage to eclipse The Longest Night?” They did, but only because the record is a touch more adventurous, and the hooks are damn-near bottomless. Plus, as is the case for literally every Pharaoh release, vocalist Tim Aymar achieves peak performance (oh, how he’s missed), and that unmistakable footprint (fretprint?) of Matt Johnsen on guitar finds yet another level of “Adrian Smith morphs with Chris Oliva.” Just a flat-out bonkers-great record.

Primitive origins: Philadelphia, PA
Label: Cruz Del Sur Records
Sample: “Rats and Rope

A Sound of Thunder – The Lesser Key of Solomon [2014]

[Cover artwork: Dušan Marković]

Washington, D.C.’s A Sound of Thunder is one of those bands that seems to feed off the act of maliciously shaking off strict genre tags. It’s a courageous course, and it means the members benefit from laughing at any and all rulebooks whenever they march into the studio, but it can obviously get a little complicated when it comes to lists such as this. Is The Lesser Key of Solomon a USPM record? Sure! But then… No, not really. Maybe a little closer to Euro power when that particular face of the band turns its head? Sorta? The bottom line is this: A Sound of Thunder is a great heavy metal band that masterfully blends relevant modifiers into the blueprint to allow them access to any number of camps without raising an alarm and getting the guards riled up. Had The Lesser Key of Solomon landed 30 years earlier, the band would’ve toured for the record alongside Chastain, Armored Saint or Warrior, but then the production probably would’ve been a hell of a lot worse, so I’m glad they’re here with us today.

Primitive origins: Washington, D.C.
Label: Independent / Mad Neptune
Sample: “Udoroth

Eternal Champion – The Armor of Ire [2016]

 [Cover artwork: Adam Burke]

There was a time when Austin, Texas’ Eternal Champion seemed headed for a route similar to Medieval Steel, Morbid Sin, Glacier and Dark Age back in the ‘80s: Auspicious early work, but only in small tastes (an amuse-bouche, if you will), with the prospect of a full-length seemingly just out of reach. Then… POP! The Armor of Ire suddenly landed out of nowhere, and all the excitement garnered via the band’s sparse demo work quickly found a wonderfully epic 35-minute outlet. I wouldn’t say The Armor of Ire was responsible for a full USPM resurgence, but coupled with the band that’s about to appear next, Eternal Champion absolutely did pump new blood into the heart of the beast, and they did a hell of a job of reminding people just how powerful USPM can actually be. For its part, The Armor of Ire delivered a glassy brand of epic power with a unique touch of wraithlike otherworldliness, thanks to Jason Tarpey’s spectral but powerful voice.

Primitive origins: Austin, TX
Label: Independent / No Remorse Records
Sample: “The Cold Sword

Visigoth – Conqueror’s Oath [2018]

[Cover Artwork: Kris Verwimp]

Cobble together some form of modern USPM super group (yeah, no one likes super groups) and let The People elect the members? Pretty likely to see Visigoth’s Jake Rogers net a majestic share of the votes for vocalist. Everything about this guy’s booming delivery takes whatever power happens to be occurring around him and embiggens it to a point where the windows get blown out all the way to the streets. It’s an immediately recognizable and already often emulated voice, too, which seems to have happened very quickly. An understandable outcome, though, considering his impact. Not to take away from what the rest of the Visigoth players bring to the plate here, but Rogers’ influence is similar to what a fellow like Alan Averill brings to Primordial: there is a clear central protagonist in the story, and we do not want that character to fall victim to a wandering Balrog or Eleint and never be heard from again.

Primitive origins: Salt Lake City, UT
Label: Metal Blade Records
Sample: “Outlive Them All


  • Manilla Road – Crystal Logic [1983]
  • Manowar – Into Glory Ride [1983]
  • Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche EP [1983]
  • Warlord – Deliver Us EP [1983]
  • Armored Saint – March of the Saint [1984]
  • Brocas Helm – Into Battle [1984]
  • Cirith Ungol – King of the Dead [1984]
  • Dark Age – Dark Age EP [1984]
  • Griffin – Flight of the Griffin [1984]
  • Jag Panzer – Ample Destruction [1984]
  • Metal Church – Metal Church [1984]
  • Omen – Battle Cry [1984]
  • Agent Steel – Skeptics Apocalypse [1985]
  • Glacier – Glacier EP [1985]
  • Savage Grace – Master of Disguise [1985]
  • Warrior – Fighting for the Earth [1985]
  • Cerebus – Too Late to Pray [1986]
  • Chastain – Ruler of the Wasteland [1986]
  • Crimson Glory – Crimson Glory [1986]
  • Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian [1986]
  • Fifth Angel – Fifth Angel [1986]
  • Flotsam and Jetsam – Doomsday for the Deceiver [1986]
  • Heir Apparent – Graceful Inheritance [1986]
  • Hexx – Under the Spell [1986]
  • M.A.R.S. – Project: Driver [1986]
  • Cities – Annihilation Absolute [1987]
  • Nasty Savage – Indulgence [1987]
  • Savatage – Hall of the Mountain King [1987]
  • Shok Paris – Steel and Starlight [1987]
  • Tyrant – Too Late to Pray [1987]
  • Wild Dogs – Reign of Terror [1987]
  • Liege Lord – Master Control [1988]
  • Riot – Thundersteel [1988]
  • Sanctuary – Refuge Denied [1988]
  • Screamer – Target: Earth [1988]
  • Vicious Rumors – Digital Dictator [1988]
  • Titan Force – Titan Force [1989]
  • Lethal – Programmed [1990]
  • Virgin Steele – The Marriage of Heaven and Hell – Part Two [1995]
  • Cauldron Born – Born of the Cauldron [1997]
  • Destiny’s End – Breathe Deep the Dark [1998]
  • The Lord Weird Slough Feg – Down Among the Deadmen [2000]
  • Onward – Evermoving [2001]
  • Archetype – Dawning [2002]
  • Twisted Tower Dire – Crest of the Martyrs [2003]
  • Crescent Shield – The Last of My Kind [2006]
  • Pharaoh – Be Gone [2008]
  • A Sound of Thunder – The Lesser Key of Solomon [2014]
  • Eternal Champion – The Armor of Ire [2015]
  • Visigoth – Conqueror’s Oath [2018]

~ Extended Playlist ~

Posted by Captain

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; That was my skull!

  1. Awesome. Another great USPM feature, mate. I’ve been fortunate to discover a bunch of hitherto unheard albums via your musings. Screamer’s Target: Earth being a particular highlight. Always good to see Ye Olde Slough Feg getting a bump too. Cheers, Cap.


  2. Kinda shocked by how many of these albums I own/treasure. When I think “power metal” the Euro variety comes to mind first and I’m not much into that at all, aside from Gamma Ray, the first Falconer album and Running Wild (if they count as power metal.)


  3. Great list, USPM was my favorite style during the 80s, need to check out some of the newer stuff, thank you and looking forward to the top 100


  4. This is why you are the Captain, Captain!


  5. You had me at Wild Dogs “Reign of Terror” ha, an album often never spoke of. I loved reading this list. Many of these were in my favorites yet I still discovered some new gems. Well written and bookmarked, I have some new stuff to check out. Thanks a bunch for this! Recently discovered your site.


  6. The first part of the list is pretty damn great but all these newer USPM releases have no business in a Top 50. For starters, where is LEATHERWOLF’s insane 1984 debut? Where is RACER X – Street Lethal? Or BREAKER – Get Tough!, MALICE – License To Kill, TT QUICK – Metal of Honor, HELLION – Screams In The Night, SACRED RITE (take your pick), APOLLO RA – Ra Pariah, DR. MASTERMIND – s/t? And HELSTAR needed to be in there (any of the first 3 but not ‘Nosferatu’) ahead of any offshoot.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.